October 18, 2023

Inaugural Marder-Vaughn Center Grantees Inspire Next Generation Through Civics Education

The Marder-Vaughn Center for Historic Sites, Interpretation, and Education at the National Trust for Historic Preservation is on a mission to make civics education engaging and accessible to young Americans, using historic sites as a jumping-off point. This work follows the vision of the late Stan Marder—a man whose passion for preserving our nation’s history and educating future generations knew no bounds.

Marder believed that historic sites are ideal partners in civics education as physical embodiments of the nation’s and its peoples’ values, triumphs, and flaws. In 2022, its first year, the Marder-Vaughn Center grant program saw six historic sites receive awards to develop experiential civics-themed activities—including a board game developed by President Lincoln's Cottage, and educational programs related to climate change at Filoli—and curricula designed to enrich classrooms nationwide.

Learn more about four of the inaugural grantees here.

Sharing Inclusive History in the Classroom at Decatur House

Recorded Live on July 26, 2022 at the White House Historical Association in Washington D.C.

Thanks in part to Marder-Vaughn Center funding, the White House Historical Association (WHHA) hosted the Decatur House Advisory Council—Julianna Jackson, a historical archaeologist; Eric Brooks, curator at Henry Clay’s Ashland Estate; and Stephen E. Hammond, a historian and descendant of Nancy Syphax, a former enslaved resident of the historic house—to discuss the interpretation of enslaved persons’ histories at the site as part of the WHHA's Teacher Institute.

More than 60 K-12 educators learned about how these individuals approach inclusive history in classrooms, at historic sites, and in their work. The event was part of an ongoing effort to “tell a more inclusive and comprehensive history of Decatur House, as well as the people who lived and worked here,” according to Dr. Matthew Costello, chief education officer and director of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History at the White House Historical Association, the organization that operates the site in conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Creating Civics Education Programming at Woodlawn Plantation and Pope-Leighey House

Pope Leighey House exterior

Exterior of Pope-Leighey House.


photo by: Woodlawn

Exterior of Woodlawn Plantation.

At Woodlawn Plantation and the Pope-Leighey House just outside the nation’s capital in Alexandria, Virginia, funding from the Marder-Vaughn Center was used to hire experts to conduct original research and make recommendations for a site-related civics education program. The team recommended that a rich civics education program be established at this former site of enslavement, the center of an antebellum multiracial anti-slavery community, and a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house relocated there in 1964 after it had been slated for demolition through eminent domain. Future on-site and virtual education programs will teach about land- and education rights, racialized labor, and help students hone essential information literacy skills.

Development of a Mini-Unit on Fascism at The Glass House

A group of students pilot the new AP curriculum at The Glass House.

photo by: The Glass House

A group of students participating in the mini-unit on Fascism developed by The Glass House.

In New Canaan, Connecticut, The Glass House, a historic site named for one of its several unique Modern and Postmodern architectural structures, inspired an educational program focused on fascism for high school students studying comparative governments. Developed with Marder-Vaughn Center funding, the four-day curriculum teaches about fascism in the early twentieth century through the personal experience and actions of The Glass House’s architect, Philip Johnson.

In the 1930s, Johnson demonstrated a fascination with the politics and propaganda of the Nazi party and made antisemitic comments in his writings. Later in life, Johnson turned away from fascism and sought to atone for his pro-fascist activities, apologizing and demonstrating his remorse in part by providing a pro bono design for the Kneses Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Port Chester, New York. Monuments he designed and a significant collection of Jewish art he amassed during this later period feature in the curriculum and can be viewed at the historic site.

Developing Civics Centered Lesson Plans at the President Woodrow Wilson House

The rear of the Woodrow Wilson House with gardens and back lawn.

photo by: Scott Suchman

View of the Wilson House from the back lawn.

At the President Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C., funding from the Marder-Vaughn Center allowed teacher-in-residence Dr. Samantha Averett to develop a dozen lesson plans based on the former president’s time in office and his legacy. Averett created lessons for the elementary, middle, and high school levels on topics including the First Amendment, the women’s suffrage movement, and the role of baseball in American culture—inspired by Wilson’s love of the sport.

The lesson plans are available online for teachers nationwide to adopt in their classrooms. Students can draw connections from the lesson plans to other resources from the Wilson house and items in its collections, including a baseball signed by His Majesty King George V, used in a benefit game between members of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy stationed in London in 1918 during World War I.

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Marianne Dhenin is a historian and journalist covering social and environmental justice and politics.

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